A day in the life of the Net
March 2, 1999
(IDG) -- It's nearly midnight and Internet traffic in Japan is spiking. Yashushi Sano, the man responsible for keeping Japan's part of the Internet backbone running, joins the online flurry of activity as he checks e-mail and chats with friends from his home in Yokohama.
At that same moment thousands of miles away, Franck Simon is monitoring midafternoon Internet activity from his office in Paris. Meanwhile, Mike Carroll settles in for the day at one of the busiest Internet exchanges in the world after battling rush hour traffic outside of Washington, D.C.
Welcome to the global Internet, where an unsung cadre of network managers keeps traffic on the order of multiple gigabits per second moving smoothly around the world.
On Tuesday, Jan. 19, Network World, in conjunction with parent company International Data Group's News Service, dispatched reporters to eight of the major crossroads for Internet traffic, known as network access points (NAPs). The idea was to gain an inside look at the people and places at the core of the Internet backbone.
Consistent with the highly decentralized nature of the Internet, we found that in many respects the NAPs are very different. Some are located on college campuses, others are in corporate high- rises. Some NAPs are run by nonprofit organizations that offer their services for free, while others are run by major telcos that charge thousands of dollars per month in connection fees. Some have staffers on-site 24 hours a day; others are managed remotely. Some use FDDI for their backbones; others rely on Gigabit Ethernet or ATM.
But there are similarities among NAPs as well. They all serve the same basic function - to act as neutral byte bazaars where ISPs can swap packets with other ISPs based on specific protocols and traffic levels. NAPs don't get involved in the haggling that leads to the public peering agreements between ISPs; they simply move traffic.
Security is tight at all the NAPs, befitting their importance. The guts of all the NAPs look remarkably alike no matter where they are - drab rooms crammed with jumbles of cables and tall racks of routers and switches. And the network managers who operate the NAPs share a quiet confidence that they have the bandwidth, the backup systems and the network monitoring tools to weather any storm and keep the Internet humming.
As the Shintamagawa line pulls out from a train station near Yokohama, Yasushi Sano finds himself a seat. It's 7:30 and the 49-year-old engineer settles in to sleep for the hour-and-a-half train ride to work.
The morning commute to Tokyo is a ritual for Sano. He spent his career in NEC Corp.'s communications group until 1997 when he was dispatched to Japan Internet Exchange Co., Ltd. to head the company's technical staff.
Sano, usually first in the office, is soon joined by Toshiki Ueda, Japan Internet Exchange's marketing chief.
Sano and Ueda and their nine colleagues oversee Japan's only commercial Internet exchange. Set up in 1997, Japan Internet Exchange, or JPIX for short, manages the switches where about 20 of Japan's Internet service providers connect to each other. The company is a cooperative effort, with initial investment from top Japanese ISPs and equipment companies including Fujitsu Ltd., NEC, AT&T Jens Corp, and Kokusai Denshin Denwa Co., Ltd. (KDD), Japan's largest international telco.
Although for most of its life, Japan's Internet has used exchange points affiliated with Keio University, the backers of JPIX felt a commercial operation would be more "responsible" in handling Japan's growing Internet, Ueda said.
They "recognized the necessity of having a commercial company providing Internet exchange ... to keep it safe and sound," Ueda said. It's now his job to keep it growing with new customers. "In order to survive in this business we have to try to expand the services we offer and meet customers' requests as much as possible," he said. Ueda focuses his sales effort on U.S.-based ISPs that are looking at the Japanese market now that deregulation has eased the way for foreign communications providers in Japan.
Ueda hails from KDD and JPIX is housed in the company's office in Otemachi, the heart of Japan's financial world. The KDD building serves a similar role for the country's Internet. In addition to JPIX, KDD offers equipment space to foreign ISPs and is the base for NSP/IXP II, an Internet exchange run by a university research group.
It's Tuesday and JPIX has a weekly companywide meeting at 10:00. As staffers sip cold Chinese tea from paper cups, Sano outlines a schedule for readying JPIX's systems for the year 2000. Sano says that the exchange has had minimal problems, in part due to close communications with customers, who are often the first to find trouble. One ISP recently notified JPIX that on Jan. 1, "the year jumped to 2000," Sano says. The culprit was firmware in a JPIX network time server that didn't recognize a "leap second," and automatically advanced a year, he said. Sano carries a pager so he can be reached on weekends and evenings but has never needed to be called in for a crisis, he said.
The calm of the 19th floor office might be a testament to the stability of JPIX's system. The staff works in a corner section high up in the building while their switches are buried 13 floors below. Sano and Ueda can monitor switch activity through browsers on their desktops. A chart displays traffic volume of NEC's BigGlobe Internet service, while dots representing router ports show JPIX's activity in real time by blinking orange, green and grey.
Cramped desks face each other in two rows running across the office. Outside, the city sprawls from the orange and white communications tower next door to Tokyo bay in the distance. On a clear day Ueda sometimes scans the horizon with binoculars kept on the window sill.
But today the sky is overcast and Sano and Ueda have a quiet lunch at their desks. Sano pages through the Nikkei newspaper while the 45-year-old Ueda eats freeze-dried Ramen with a ball of glutinous rice he brought from his hometown. He sips the mixture while checking out cinema sites on the Web, pausing for a video clip from the new Val Kilmer film. To the left stands a picture of his son with their cocker spaniel, Indy, short for "Indiana Jones Ueda," he says.
Ueda usually visits JPIX's switches only when prospective customers call. And Sano makes the journey downstairs to hook them up. For a tour of the switch room today they take an elevator to the 8th floor, pick up two smart card keys and then drop to the basement. Passing a security guard and identifying themselves, they move to a bank of elevators that is the only access to wiring rooms. At the 6th floor, a short walk and two locked doors later, Sano points to a bank of 12 closets, a yellow Tamagotchi key chain in his hand.
The core of the exchange is four switches, all GigaSwitch FDDI models from Digital. The switches can each handle 3.4G bits per second and their function is to exchange traffic between JPIX's ISP customers routing their traffic through the sixth floor facility. The Digital switches sit next to banks of wiring closets that hold cabling panels and Cisco Catalyst 5000 Ethernet switches. A few floors up, JPIX offers co-location space where customers maintain racks of routers and hubs from the gamut of networking vendors including Bay Networks and 3Com.
It costs 1.2 million yen ($10,000) a month for the first FDDI port connection to JPIX and 700,000 yen ($5,900) per additional port.
JPIX currently peaks at about 320M bits/sec every day around midnight when Japanese users are home from work and NTT doesn't charge for local calls to specified numbers. The second peak of the day is at about 12:30 when those same workers break for lunch. Ueda laughs at a graph showing a steep rise in traffic beginning at 12:00PM, peaking thirty minutes later and dropping back at 1:00 to about 200M bit/sec.
"You can seek how dedicated Japanese are to their jobs," he says pointed to the spike on a graph back in the office. As soon as their lunch hour ends, "they quit playing on the Web and get back to work."
Ueda finishes his day writing an English version of JPIXs terms and conditions for a foreign ISP he recently signed up. He and Sano each head home at about 6:30.
Read the remaining 7 stories of individual NAPs by clicking on their city name in the 'Related IDG.net Stories' section below.
This story was reported by IDG News Service staffers Clare Haney in Hong Kong, Rob Guth in Tokyo, Jeanette Borzo in Paris, Kristi Essick in Amsterdam, Jana Sanchez in London, as well as Network World staffers Beth Schultz in Chicago, Jeff Caruso in San Jose and Neal Weinberg in Vienna, Va. The story was compiled by Weinberg.
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